DOMA Isn’t Dead Yet

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act and allowed same-sex marriages to resume in California. It was a great for America. Every legal marriage now counts the same in the eyes of the federal government.

Yet every headline that declared “DOMA unconstitutional!” was wrong or at least misleading. The court struck down only one section of DOMA. The rest still needs to go.

The case decided Wednesday challenged the part of DOMA that said that the federal government would recognize only marriages between one man and one woman. The law has other parts. The most important remaining one empowers states to ignore same-sex marriages performed in other states.

A man and a woman married in New York could move to any other state and their vows would remain legal. They could file state taxes jointly, visit each other in the hospital and get a divorce if it came to that.

If the couple were of the same sex, the status of their marriage would depend very much on where they moved. If they chose Virginia, Oregon or any other states that have amended their constitutions, their rings would be just so much jewelry. Discrimination persists.

As the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision play out in coming weeks and months, those discriminatory states will become fresh legal battlegrounds. States administer many federal programs, and how they treat same-sex couples will be something judges, lawyers, administrators and elected officials will decide.

Supporters of equality must continue to fight. Until every marriage is valid in every state, work will remain. Until the law ensures people will not be discriminated against in employment, housing and public accommodation, work will remain. Until the last vestiges of bigotry become nothing more than shameful memories, work will remain.

It won’t be easy. Bigotry remains alive and well, from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee who tweeted, “Jesus wept,” after the Supreme Court ruled to Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., who worried, “society itself is at risk and cannot continue.”

Some minds will never change, but a nation can and will.

I am certain equality is inevitable because of my friend Karen.

Karen is a conservative Republican who grew up in the rural South and still lives there with her Republican husband. She is a Baptist, the daughter of a minister who believes in fiscal responsibility, smaller government and the Bible.

On Wednesday, she shared her frustration with Republicans and Christians who reacted so boorishly.

“It’s not easy being an actual Republican who thinks the gay marriage debate is stupid, because it is. It’s ridiculous, and everybody knows it,” she vented. “Every argument someone tries to make against it sounds ridiculous. Tell me exactly how gays being married is going to infringe on my rights as a Baptist.”

She does not view homosexuality as a sin because it is not a choice. Sin requires that we make a choice to defy her god. Besides, she said, it is not her place to judge people lest she herself be judged.

“This is the civil rights of our generation. Fifty years from now, people are going to look back and ask ‘What the hell was the big deal?’ ”

Karen is younger than 30, part of a generation that sees gay relationships as unremarkable, one more instance of love manifesting between humans.

“I have a lot of young Republican friends who feel the same way as we do,” she said. “But for as many of us as there are, we will have to wait for the older generation to — as bad as this sounds — die off before we can effect any change in our own party.”

I wish more young Republicans like Karen would take a public stand. Elected ones especially need to defy their party leadership and voice what they believe not what plays well with the Neanderthal wing of the GOP.

It’s hard, though. ‘Karen’ is not even Karen’s real name. I agreed to change it to protect her from the wrath of her family, her church and her political party.

Time will bring change, but gay Americans should not have to wait. The morality of equality is as valid as it will ever be. That’s something worth fighting for.

Christian Trejbal is a member of the board of directors of the Association of Opinion Journalists and chair of the Open Government Committee. Overcoming graduate degrees in philosophy, he worked as an editorial writer at The (Bend) Bulletin and The Roanoke Times for more than a decade. In 2013, he and his wife moved to Portland, Ore., where he writes freelance and provides public policy analysis. Or, as his wife prefers to say, he is a stay-at-home dude. Follow him on Twitter @ctrejbal

Image Source: DOMA is dead by vpickering on Flickr. http://victoriapickering.com/

  • Marti Teitelbaum

    Yes, the DOMA decision is one of those situations where we celebrate today but must get back to work tomorrow. I was thinking about what you said “their rings would be just so much jewelry.” A legally married couple moving to Virginia could be legally refused a place to live because both members of the couple are the same sex. It’s very similar to the ugliness of Jim Crow (which seems to be making a comeback too).
    In terms of federal recognition of same-sex marriages, I think the Obama administration is working on making federal benefits applicable to all legally married couples no matter where they reside. But even if they get rules in place to do that: 1) same-sex couples in some states will probably end up having to bring suit to get the federal benefits that depend on state administration; and 2) if the next president is a Republican [cue screaming like that in horror movies], those federal rules could be twisted and changed.

  • I’m not sure what good it does to have a belief that you’re not willing to admit. “Karen” needs to help affect change now. In front of everyone.

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